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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Teen Social Rebellion: "Sad" is the new Pink

Ask any youth what the number one challenge is for teenagers and they will most likely answer, Peer Pressure. Typically, they aren’t talking about pressure from peers to do bad things like smoke or be promiscuous, though there is a little of that. What they are referring to is the constant pressure to fit in.

All teens feel a desire to fit in. It is our human nature to seek acceptance from those around us and such desires are nothing to be ashamed of. I suppose it is also human nature to want to be popular. The problem is that human nature can also be very judgmental and getting in with the cool kids requires their approval. If you are completely gorgeous, incredibly rich or exceptionally sporty you shouldn’t have too much trouble. But for the other 93% of us, we might not make the “cut.”

I find it interesting that two of the most important teen traits; being intelligent and being nice, are not on the “cool” requirements list. So a teen finds themselves excluded for one reason or another and in order to cope they begin to identify flaws in the cool kids. They say things like, “Well at least I’m not rude” or “At least my friends like me for who I am, not who my parents are.” Soon the teens don’t want to be cool (secretly they still do, but since they can’t get accepted they have no choice but to pretend they don’t want to) and they take steps to prove how different (and better) they are than them.

This leads to a social rebellion. The smart kids realize they might not fit in with the cool kids, but at least they have brains. They judge the cool kids as ignorant fools and they find security and union in the nerd group. Perhaps a group of plus size girls sit around and think that at least they are nice to people and, after all, kindness is more important than coolness. The band and choir geeks spend their time developing their talents. Over time, some youth begin to see the cool kids as the opposite of anything they want to associate with and in their expressions of rebellion against that image they go to the opposite extreme.

If jocks and cheerios wear perma-smiles, they wear frowns.

If jocks and cheerios wear bright colors, they wear black.

If jocks and cheerios get cool little subtle tattoos, they wear huge “in your face” tattoos.

If jocks and cheerios have gorgeous hair, they wear extreme “punk” hairstyles or shaved heads.
In an effort to be noticed, they go for the shock value. You see this in everything from their makeup to the music they listen to. Sadly, they might even turn to substance abuse or other forms of self destructive behavior.

I can fully understand a teenager’s desire to rebel against the cool image, but I think most teens are going the wrong direction. There is a way to rebel against the “cool” image without turning into an emo, a goth, or a punk. These days, excessive piercings and tattoos are so common that avoiding them is the true rebellion. If you want to be different, don’t do what all the other nonconformists are doing.

You don’t have to be a “pleaser” to be a peacemaker. True modesty, in both personality and appearance is the opposite of “holier than thou.” So go ahead and rebel, but while you are rebelling against the popular kids, rebel against the nonconformists as well.

Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King Jr, Jesus, Ghandi, and countless other leaders in history were known best for how they were challenging the status quo. Their rebellion took the form of leadership to something better. They set an example that led to a positive change. And they did it without embracing depressing music, making extreme fashion statements or giving up on the world entirely.

Again… Go ahead and rebel. But rebel in a way that makes you a better person and influences the people around you to be better as well.

Some Examples:

Popular Kids Bad Rebellion Good Rebellion

Rude to Others Ignore Others Kind to Others

Latest Fashions Dark & Vintage Clean and Modest

Drinking Parties Sabotage Parties Good Clean Fun

I think you get the idea. And if you want to go for individuality or show everyone how unique you are, I think you’ll agree that there just aren’t that many people in the good rebellion category. So be different, but maintain a well rounded sense of morals and values. And most importantly, don’t be a hater : )

Note To Parents:

Most Parents don’t know how to handle the rebellion discussed above. For the most part, parents want their kids to fit in and, with any luck, be popular. They may even unknowingly contribute to the pressure that their teens feel and in response the teens typically rebel against the parents as well. Much of the shock value that teens are going for is directed at their parents, teachers, principal, etc.

Depression, Anxiety, Behavior Disorders and Eating Disorders are all signs that your youth are having trouble feeling accepted and loved. Helping your child is going to require love and gentleness rather than disapproval and anger. In the words of Stephen Covey, “Seek first to Understand.” Build a healthy relationship of trust and talk openly with your kids. If you can’t do this with your teen, it’s time to find someone who can. Remember also that change doesn’t happen overnight, but with the right attitude on your part and a lot of patience, Miracles Can Happen.